From the Practitioner Hub: Helping businesses grow in Ghana

Susanne Roelofsen
By on June 6, 2017

This blog was written as a part of the Practitioner Hub‘s June 2017 series on Advisory Support. This article was originally published here and is reproduced with permission. 


At MDF West Africa, we recently launched the IBA Hub Ghana, from which we provide business development support to entrepreneurs. We help them develop sustainable business models by optimizing their strategy with the use of the business model canvas and building the internal management capacity of the business, the owner and its staff. We currently support entrepreneurs in WASH (EnterWash) and Agribusiness (IAC’s Accelerator Programme). Here’s a few learnings from our side:

  • Do it with them, not for them: Many entrepreneurs, especially when attracting finance, know the importance of a business plan. Often times, they hire someone to write it for them, using the jargon the investors like so much. However, they forget that team and commitment are equally important. When asked about aspects of their business model, it shows that the words are not theirs, harming their credibility. We ask the right questions for clients to have a better understanding of their businesses, but we make sure that the strategy for their growth comes from them.


  • Make your examples relatable: We pride ourselves in being trainers and consultants at the same time; which enables us to enrich training with our experience from the field. When training our entrepreneurs, this means we can use real-life examples of similar businesses in their fields because we know about the struggles of fellow entrepreneurs and, even more important, the success cases. Working on relatable case studies shows entrepreneurs what (not) to do and allows them to discuss and compare this to their own situation.


  • Help entrepreneurs look at things from a new point of view: We’ve noticed entrepreneurs spend a lot of time ‘selling’ their product or business, without knowing what it is that the investor or customer is looking for. One of our entrepreneurs, a honey producer, has been dealing with sceptical customers. Unfortunately, Ghana’s market has many honey producers who mix sugar with their honey, so is not always easy to prove that the production is proper, and it makes it harder to convey the health benefits of the product. After one of our workshops, he said: “when you are passionate about what you do and you put 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year into it: naturally, you become defensive. But at IAC, I’ve learned the need not to be. Rather, to understand and empathize with my consumers and serve their peculiar demands“. Where this entrepreneur had become quite desperate, a simple tool such as a customer persona gives him a better insight in the customer’s perspective, allowing him to adapt his sales strategy.


  • Create commitment and supportive environment: Ghanaian entrepreneurs have been somewhat ‘spoiled’ when it comes to free business advice. However, we have noticed that providing free support to entrepreneurs hasn’t been helpful for commitment and participation in our workshops. Some even ask for transport money to get to the venue and show up late, because there is little commitment from their side. However, subsidies are becoming scarcer, so there is a need for more commercial business development. By having the entrepreneurs pay for our services, they are more engaged in our trainings, and within a group of like-minded entrepreneurs, sharing of experiences is much easier. During our programs, we create enough time for peer-to-peer learning. Discussing their business case with fellow entrepreneurs benefits both parties with new perspectives. We try to match entrepreneurs from different fields, so that they can speak about their business case openly, without having to share their insights with a direct competitor.

IAC works with both start-ups and SMEs in the agricultural sector, on improving a) access to market, access to finance or c) improving operational efficiency. We work with e.g. input suppliers, producers, processors and distributors (often entrepreneurs perform several of these activities at the same time) – e.g. poultry farmers, dried mango producers, honey producers, fruit- and vegetable producers, coconut vendors and fish processors. An example:


A poultry farmer in the Greater Accra Region

We’ve recently supported a poultry farmer, whose previous batch of birds had been struck by disease. Due to this, he did not have enough working capital to invest in buying chicks for the next batch.

When he came to us, there was an opportunity to apply for a grant from the Ghana Poultry Program (GPP), which would allow him to invest part in resources, and part in business development support. In order for him to apply for this, he needed to have his cost and revenue streams mapped out, as well as a cash flow statement. We supported him in listing all these things, using the IBA tools, and provided feedback on his application form to GPP.

From our meetings, we figured that there were very tangible improvements to be made, such as: paying employees after sales, buying another (cheaper) type of feed, and keeping better track of expenses such as transport to and from the farm. We also worked on mapping the potential customers and focusing on the ones that would pay a higher price, in order to increase his margins. We’re still awaiting the results from GPP, but in the mean time he is operating with improved operational efficiency.

Find out more information on MDF West Africa, IBA Hub Ghana and the EnterWASH and IAC programmes.